Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Friday, December 16, 2005

Vindicated or Just Irritated?

Wow. Wow wow. wow WOW wow wow....?!!!

By the way, WOW!

Did I mention wow?

This week's English staff meeting at ye olde academy doesn't turn out to be the usual dry list of (mostly irrelevant to me) events, rambling (mostly irrelevant) soapbox monologues and (usually irrelevant) squabbles between Mr. O and one of the other more opinionated members of the faculty. Our school had a general English proficiency test not so long ago, and today we have a couple of representatives from the company that produces and manages the test in order to talk about the results.

We are all given copies of a very thick collection of documents spelling out the test results. (Most of it is a whole bunch of graphs and mathematical formulae that don't really mean a damned thing to me but sure look cool. These guys are definitely professionals!) The two representatives then give us a very (and probably needlessly) detailed rundown on just what it all means.

"This school's students are clearly strong in both English listening and reading comprehension," says the lead rep. Then his face and tone become more grave. "However, they are weak in writing. Their English composition proficiency catches up a bit in the upper grades, but in grades 9 and 10 it is well behind the national average."


There is dead silence for the better part of a minute, and then Mr. I splutters, "We do teach a specialized writing course in the 11th grade."

The reps nod, and the leader retorts, "That's what we figured, looking at the results. However, frankly speaking, 11th grade is much too little, too late to be effective."

"But that's the only place we can fit it into the schedule," stammers Mr. I, "and even then only with difficulty. How could we make room for writing without interfering with something else?"

One of the other teachers chimes in, "What do the schools with above-average writing scores do?"

With an "I'm glad you asked!" look on his face, the rep replies, "They don't really teach specialized writing courses at all. Instead, they stick composition exercises into their regular English reader classes. Basically, after they finish a reading passage, they have the students write a short composition in English summarizing the content and giving their opinions on it. It doesn't take long for the students to get used to the idea of writing in English."

Our English faculty erupts into a chorus of oohs and aahs. What a revolutionary idea! And so simple, too! Wow! Why hasn't anybody thought of that before?

Actually, one voice is missing from the Chorus of Eagerness, and the mouth attached to that voice is frowning. It's doing so because the person behind it did think of that before. In fact, he not only thought of it, he did it...and he was punished for it.

That person is me.

When I first started working full-time at the academy back in 1997, I was originally assigned to the senior high section, and my main post was teaching 10th grade English "reader" class. Since it's basically a college prep school, English classes there were always geared toward exams. However, I wasn't really familiar with Japan's entrance exam system, so I taught my classes the way I had been taught German, Japanese, and my own native English. Basically, my approach was "learn by doing". If we focused on a grammar pattern or learned new vocabulary, I told the students to "use them in a sentence". Whenever we read a passage, I told the students to give me a summary and a review in English. I also gave them extra points for doing supplementary composition work.

I saw a lot of progress, particularly in the students' essay writing. Their general proficiency with English grammar and vocabulary seemed better than the ordinary, test-oriented grades of the past. They had trouble adjusting to my style at first, but they seemed to appreciate it, and some of them really seemed to get into it. Because of that, when the students moved on from grade 10 to grade 11, I was sent along with them. I continued working with the same students in more or less the same manner.

Halfway through that second year the problems started. I was stubbornly refusing to use the traditional exam-prep teaching approach, and that started to rankle some people. First parents started complaining about me to the homeroom teachers, to the grade chief, to the principal, and to the PTA. Then other teachers started expressing "concerns" that I was "not giving the students what they need to succeed". Finally, I started hearing gripes from the students themselves that I was wasting their time and hurting their chances of entering college. One student even went so far as to flunk one of my exams on purpose so he would be demoted to a "more useful" lower-level class.

When that year drew to its close, I insisted vociferously that I not be moved along with them to grade 12. Senior year is exam hell year, after all, and it only stands to reason that they concentrate on exam prep. There was no way I could be qualified to teach at that level. No such luck. The grade chief insisted on moving me up. (I found out later that he did it mainly for the sake of politics, i.e. keeping other teachers out of the position, but that's another story.) I knew there would be trouble, and I was right. I stuck to my composition-oriented approach, but I boosted the level to help their exam prep. Many students stayed absolutely loyal, but a lot of others became openly defiant and insulting. I was accused of being incompetent. One student said I should "stick with music and quit teaching". One of our more promising boys handed in his last final exam for my class blank. Meanwhile, acting at parents' request, other members of the English faculty were offering special seminars after school to give my students "real" English education.

Most of the students managed to get into the colleges they'd hoped to, which was actually impressive. After all, up till then they'd always been a problem grade. However, the few students that didn't make it named me as the cause of their failure. The grade faculty more or less forgot I even existed when it came to graduation and I was essentially left out of everything. When it was all said and done, under orders from the principal, I was moved to the junior high school and told that, except for the grade 12 composition seminar I teach every year, I would never teach senior high level again. Ever since then, I have focused almost exclusively on junior high "oral English communication".

And now the other English teachers are acting like composition exercises and task-based reader lessons are a wonderful, revolutionary, new idea...the greatest thing since the online dictionary! But really those company reps are just telling me that I'd been right all along.

How should I be taking this?

Time to shut up and play my guitar.


  • R: Excuse me, do you know how to play that?
    BobK: No.
    R: Then put it down.

    Seriously though, that sucks. Nothing more frustrating than being right, with nothing to show for it!

    sudalo - The act of washing one's halo.

    By Blogger DewKid, at 1:06 AM  

  • Felt this way many times, when it comes to machine development ideas. Engineers tend to be hopelessly self absorbed, God help anyone who comes up with a better idea than theirs.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:40 AM  

  • Moody and those company reps are in this situation: "Great minds think alike"..

    "The truth will be out" -- People who being right should have a better result at last.

    By Anonymous L.C_d, at 2:46 PM  

  • Engineers have no mechanical ability and brains that are so stuck in theoretical lala land that they'd forget their hands if they weren't attached. I know. I've been stuck trying to organize their stupid asses for 10 years!

    pfseb: the deified architect who built the anti-pyramid.

    By Blogger Phillipa Scratch, at 4:47 PM  

  • Your job reminds me of the "Peanuts" cartoon in which Charlie Brown is beating his head against a wall.

    Linus or Lucy, I forget which, comes up and says, "Why are you beating your head against a wall?"

    Charlie Brown replies, "Because it feels good when I stop."

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 6:37 PM  

  • Pandabonium-

    The wonderful feeling of a head ceasing to beat against a wall...?
    Is that kind of like the sound of one hand clapping?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:20 AM  

  • Moody…..TRY THAT.!!!!!!
    At lease you feel comfortable more than drinking a Yebisus Beer.;-)

    By Anonymous L.C_d, at 2:44 PM  

  • Hmmm...Moody, do you mind to send me your address after the guitar session? :)

    I can be reach at up and away!!! :p

    By Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@, at 12:29 PM  

  • Poor Moody, now now, Christmas is in the air and will certainly wash away the headache and those stupid moron!

    By Blogger Robin, at 12:30 PM  

  • MM, I feel for you but hey! look who's having the last laugh. Wow! it is.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 4:28 PM  

  • "I look at the world and I notice it's turning
    While my guitar gently weeps
    With every mistake we must surely be learning
    Still my guitar gently weeps"

    -some famous guys

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 9:18 PM  

  • somehow i feel a deja vu... was it the education system in Malaysia too? hmm... sensitive issue. keep my mouth shut.

    By Blogger YD, at 1:07 AM  

  • The education system(s) in the U.S. are always under attack, too, for one reason or another. Now it seems the "gripe du jour" is whether to teach "intelligent design" in science class (even though there's no science involved in it whatsoever). That and whether or not to include sex ed in the curriculum...

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:23 AM  

  • Come to think of it, Singapore's too.

    But then, Education System of a nation is a tough job.

    Macro Issue on fundings, allocation of resouces etc.

    Too Headache for me.

    By Blogger Robin, at 3:59 PM  

  • Talk about sex education, they are introducing sex ed in the Malaysian curriculum and guidelines have been drawn up. It's about time too.

    By Blogger kelly, at 3:19 PM  

  • Merry Christmas, Moody and EVERYONE!

    By Blogger Robin, at 11:05 AM  

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